In 1998, in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, Calvin College professor Kurt Ver Beek saw swarms of short-term mission teams flocking to serve in Honduras. They came wanting to help, but Dr. Ver Beek found that many of the groups that he encountered were unprepared for the reality they faced once there.
When Ver Beek researched the impact of short-term missions on the people who went on them, he found that most participants had little to no lasting impact on their lives. So along with his wife, JoAnn Van Engen, and friend, David Livermore, Ver Beek set out to write a curriculum to prepare teams for the reality they would face overseas. But he soon discovered that preparing short-term mission teams would not be enough. The hosts that receive those teams have to be prepared as well. Here’s one example that illustrates why.
A friend of mine recently sent her thirteen year-old daughter on a mission trip with their church’s middle school youth group. Their church leaders approached a sister church in another state with a proposal for them to come and serve. The leaders from the sister church knew that the visit would mean financial gifts that would make a year’s worth of community ministry possible, so they said yes, but they had no idea what they were going to do with twenty middle schoolers for a week.
So they canvassed the community, asking neighbors what work they needed done. An elderly woman needed her home painted. Another neighbor needed his garden weeded and planted. The host church would have loved to design a more meaningful experience for the youth, but they didn’t have much time, and these opportunities seemed easy enough to plug into, so they did.
For their first day on the job, the young people were divided into two teams and went to work. They got an incredible amount accomplished, until one of the youth leaders left the painting project site to visit the gardening project site. She quickly noticed that those weren’t tomato plants that their group was planting. For most of the morning, half of the youth group had been planting cannabis, aka marijuana.
The leaders from both churches were mortified. The situation had to be explained to the kids, and phone calls made to parents. This experience taught everyone involved why it is important that hosts be prepared to receive mission teams. And there are many more stories that could be told that would illustrate this lesson, as well.
One way to ensure that those receiving a short-term missions team are prepared is to work with an established organization with partners in the community. Youth Unlimited, Christian Reformed World Missions, and World Renew are just a few of the ministries who work to ensure that short-term mission experiences are both educational and effective.
Ver Beek’s curriculum, Changed for Life, was published this month. It is a free, online resource for short-term mission teams, the congregations who send them, and the hosts who receive them. For more information about the benefits of working with a mission agency for your trip, see this piece from Changed for Life http://bit.ly/1Uf0zTJ.